About a year-and-a-half ago, I bought a house. A townhouse, actually, and an old tired one at that. It had plenty of room, three good sized bedrooms and two baths, great views of an open field, and a nice little yard with a swingset for my kid. Let's just say that it had all the makings of a really good home for my little miniature family, but it was obvious that it was going to need some real TLC before it would be anything I could be proud to call home.
The old vinyl floor in the kitchen and powder room was faded and worn, not to mention conspicuously outdated, with its tiny country-blue hearts and flowers. There was no microwave (which was inconvenient, since that happens to be the one kitchen appliance that I have mastered the use of), but only a sad-looking harvest gold extractor hood, which I knew would have to go immediately. The kitchen cabinets were original (meaning only two younger than I am myself), and despite layers of white paint, they screamed "replace me!" whenever I peered in their direction. The plain, flat insulated steel entry door was dented and scuffed and had no more character than a tiny peephole at eye level, and the staircase was guarded by an unsightly one-piece black wrought iron railing, which I promised myself would be the first thing I would update.
I bought and closed on the home in April, and immediately set to the task of bringing about my vision for my new aquisition. I saw much potential hiding in the ugliness contained in its four walls, and I told it so. "You will be beautiful one day... trust me," I said as I ran my hand along one of its scuffed and scarred dirty beige walls, stained with time. The obnoxious black railing came down and I hired a stair company to build a lovely oak-and-iron balustrade with basket and twist details. The nasty old vinyl floor was covered over with wood laminate, updating the kitchen instantly (the inside of the kitchen pantry was not re-floored, however, and now whenever I reach in for the Cheerios, I am reminded of my kitchen's past life). The harvest gold hood was ripped off and replaced with a nice microwave hood, finally enabling me to cook (or, at least, to re-heat). I had the entire home repainted, in earthy tones of khaki and sage (and of course, one room in all-American-boy-blue). I replaced the front door with a charming decorative door with an integrated leaded glass window. And then I stepped back and looked at what my tired, abused old home had become, and I saw that it was good. And, seeing that it was good, I gave the house my final mark of approval: I moved in and made it my home.
It is interesting to me, when I allow myself to wax philosophical for just a moment, the many ways in which the transformation and restoration of a home can be likened unto the transformation and restoration of a heart. Humor me a moment, and I'll try to explain...
My house was old, dirty, and kind of smelled like feet. It was obvious that it had been mistreated rather than nurtured and cared for properly, and because of this lack of proper care, it was tired and sad, and it wore that sadness on its walls like battle scars.Hearts are like that, aren't they? When a human heart is not nurtured or cared for or maybe when it has even been abused and mishandled, its sadness can also translate into ugliness that is worn on the surface - an air of cynicism, a hardness in the eyes, a seemingly permanent scowl. Or maybe the sadness never finds its way out; maybe the tears are cried in instead of cried out, and maybe that heart becomes also similar to my old "before" house - lovely and manicured on the outside, with its new architectural roof and its neatly painted shutters - and only upon opening the door can one see the sadness and ugliness that has been hidden within.
My house needed the touch and the investment of someone who would care for it and restore it and be willing to call it home. It needed someone who would see all that it could be, someone who would dare to enter into its tired, bedraggled, miry state and work patiently from the inside out, making the old new again, and the dirty clean once more. You might know where I'm headed with this analogy; our hearts are like my old house. A heart needs that same restorative touch of someone who cares enough to invest in it, to enter into its filth, to clean it up and love it and - you guessed it - to call it home.
I'm so glad God seems to think like a real estate investor. I'm so thankful that He sees my potential even when I am dirty and tired and ugly and wearing my years of mistreatment on my battle-scarred walls. I'm so glad that He runs His able hand along those walls and whispers His promises to me, just as I did to my old ugly house on that first day after I bought it. And it is worth noting that I didn't wait until the house was pretty before I bought it. I bought it when it was ugly. I bought it when it smelled liked feet.
A major difference between God and myself, though: I waited until my house was somewhat pretty before I chose to move in. God is far more tenacious as a restorer, moving right in in the midst of our filth and disarray. I'm so glad that God's love is the sort of "reckless, raging fury" that moves right in and makes itself at home, even before we are the least bit able to offer him hospitality - even when, like any nasty old building, we ought to be condemned. But He doesn't condemn us. He moves in. He calls our hearts Home. That amazes me.
My nasty old house is still old, but it isn't nasty anymore (most of the time!). It is obvious now that someone loves it and cares for it and keeps it clean (most of the time!) and smelling like vanilla instead of feet. It is useful to its owner now, serving me well, allowing me to offer hospitality to others when I play hostess for gatherings and groups. We ought to do the same with our hearts as we do with our homes - invite others in, and offer hospitality and warmth from within its walls.
One more thing about my house, though - it's not exactly finished yet, you see. I haven't yet replaced the old painted cabinets in the kitchen, and that thirty-year-old countertop is now screaming to be replaced as well (in fact, just this week, one of its laminate edges broke off completely, exposing some very old pressboard guts). My house is still a work in progress... yes, much like my heart (and yours). And even once I find the time and money to finish updating the kitchen, I will still be able to open my pantry and look at about four square feet of old country-blue heart-and-flower vinyl floor, should I need to be reminded that my house has a past.
But if you ask me, a house with a past is far more interesting than a brand-new house, anyway. A house with a past has stories to tell. If only its walls could talk... what would they say, I wonder? What would they have to share?
And that, of course, is how hearts are far more lovely than houses. Hearts can speak and share and tell stories about from whence they have come. They can tell others about the mighty restorative hand that made them new again. They can tell other dirty, bedraggled, tired hearts that there is hope, that there is a creative, visionary God with a love like a reckless raging fury who is eager and willing and able to pursue them, purchase them, inhabit them, restore them, and call them home.